The Story Garden
by K.B. Laugheed, author of The Spirit Keeper,

This article first appeared in the Fortville Community Shopper on November 15, 1994.  Reprinted by permission.

Jim Story is a gardener’s gardener.  People come from far and wide to look at his garden in Pendleton, to learn, and to enjoy.  It is a place of great beauty and abundance, a place of wisdom and enlightenment.  Countless gardeners from around Indiana—and, indeed, from across the country—have been inspired by Jim.  Whether in his enthusiastic support of the Pendleton Garden Club or though his keen involvement with the American Gourd Society, Jim Story devotes a good part of every day to sharing the joy of gardening with others.  And, as anyone who has ever seen Jim’s garden knows, there is a great deal of joy to be found in gardening.

Born and raised on a cotton farm in northeast Alabama, Jim learned early on that humans enjoy a special relationship with nature.  His family’s fortunes rose and fell according to how well the crops did each year, and food for his table came not from the supermarket but from his mother’s vegetable garden.

By the time Jim was 18, however, he knew that his future would not be decided by how well he could endure insect invasions; his future would depend upon how well he could survive military invasions.  It was, after all, May 1941, and for a few years the world of nature had to take a back seat to the unnatural world of war.

As he served in the Navy Hospital Corps through World War II, Jim was often in the thick of some of the worst fighting this planet has ever seen.  After the war, he went on to spend a total of 20 years in the Navy, usually working in a hospital or medical unit.  Retiring from the service in 1961, Jim applied his hospital experience to a new career at the Pendleton State Reformatory, where he worked until his second retirement in 1984.

Working for 43 years in hospital settings was no doubt stressful at times, and, for Jim as for so many people, the garden became a peaceful refuge where he could go to recover from the traumas of the day.  Yet Jim has never viewed the garden as a lonely place, nor has he used gardening as a way to withdraw from the world.  On the contrary, Jim has always seen the garden as a perfect place to socialize.  He loves to talk about gardening with anyone who cares to join the conversation, and so, when he found out about the Pendleton Garden Club, Jim naturally joined up.

First formed in 1937, the Pendleton Garden Club is truly an impressive organization, with 65 dues-paying members.  Each year the PGC sponsor activities such as the spring and fall sidewalk sales, the Indiana Gladiolus Society spring bulb auction and fall flower show, the Yard-of the-Month contest, educational workshops, and an annual special garden edition of the Pendleton Times.

Over the years, Jim has contributed a lot to the PGC, including serving three terms as its president, but he would probably dismiss any contributions he has made to the club as paltry compared to all that the PGC has given him.  Certainly one of the greatest gifts he received from the PGC was an introduction to the wonderful world of gourds.  In 1962 garden club members showed Jim some dried flower arrangements they had made with gourds, and in that instant Jim was hooked.  Before long he had joined the American Gourd Society and become one of its most tireless supporters and promoters.

What is it about gourds that Jim finds so irresistibly intriguing?  “I don’t know of any other plant you can grow and do so many things with the fruit,” Jim explains.  “A flower will last a few weeks or, if properly dried, a few years.  But a gourd can last for decades—even indefinitely.”

Jim loves everything about gourds—their unique history, the many varieties, the challenge of growing them, and their infinite creative applications.  Over the years Jim has grown dozens of varieties of gourds; he’s even developed a few unique varieties himself.  Through trial and error he has found that it’s usually best to grow the gourd vines on fences or trellises rather than on the ground, and he enjoys twisting, tying, and otherwise tantalizing the growing fruit in order to come up with uniquely-shaped finished gourds.
Growing interesting gourds is only the first step for Jim.  After the gourds have matured, they must “cure” for a time—perhaps as long as a year—until they are fully dried.  Then, although Jim sells a few gourds here and there, he gives the majority away to PGC members for use in club projects.  A few he sets aside for his own purposes—to paint, stain, or carve into various works of art.  From vases to sculptures to masks to musical instruments, there’s not much you can’t do with a gourd!

Jim won five blue ribbons at the “World’s Largest Gourd Show” in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, on October 1-2 of this year.  But the ribbons mean little to him compared to all the dear friends he has made over the years because of his interest in gardening and gourds.  Since the early 1960’s the American Gourd Society membership has tripled, and I firmly believe that a primary reason for this increase is Jim Story’s tireless promotion of gourds and gardening.  It is impossible for anyone to talk to Jim for more than five minutes without becoming infected by his cheerfulness and his enthusiasm.  He is the greatest kind of teacher—the kind what makes you feel as if what you have to say is every bit as important as anything he has to say.  Jim gently communicates his knowledge in such a way that not only do you feel smarter than you did before talking with him, but you also feel as if you are somehow a better person than you ever were before.

Do I exaggerate?  Ah, if only you had seen Jim’s garden this year!  For the last fifteen years, Jim has grown his gourds, vegetables, herbs, and flowers on approximately one-third of an acre of Fall Creek bottom land which is owned by his friend and neighbor, Tom White.  The nearly fifty foot long arbors from which some of his gourds grew created shady bowers of mystery and surprise.  Other gourds dangled on nearby fencerows, between which tidy lines of vegetables bore abundant fruit.  Flowers such a gladiolus were interspersed liberally among the vegetables and gourds, as well as herbs and many unusual, one-of-a-kind plants.  Two 12-foot tall towers of rolled fencing were covered with flowering vines, adding to the sense of wonder and awe.

The soil of Jim’s garden is enriched by occasional flooding from Fall Creek, although during the droughty summer of ’94 flooding was not a problem.  In fact, Jim kept his muscles toned by hauling endless bucketsful of water up from the creek every day.  His efforts were rewarded in the lush growth and tremendous productivity of his garden.

It comes as no surprise that the world of nature responds so positively to Jim Story’s gentle ministrations; Jim seems to energize the very air around him with his optimism and insistent good humor.  I know of no greater tribute a man can receive than to say that he was enriched the lives of others; Jim Story has earned such a tribute and more, much more.  He tends to those around him exactly the way he tends to the plants in his garden—nurturing growth, coaxing fruitfulness, celebrating even the most meager harvest.  Jim Story is a gardener’s gardener because he shows us all what we can be.  His garden stands as an example of how each of us can make the world around us a little bit more beautiful, more interesting, and more fun.

Thank you, Jim.